All posts by Kwame Owusu-Daaku

Contextually Comparative: A Conundrum?

I have been home in Ghana (full disclosure) since July, 2015 to carry out fieldwork for my dissertation and work on my research assistantship which is funding me for the next few years till I complete and defend my dissertation hopefully in May, 2017 (GOD let it be so!) For my research assistantship I am affiliated with the DECCMA project which seeks to assess vulnerability to climate change and migration and adaptation in 3 deltas in Ghana, India and Bangladesh. DECCMA is one of 4 consortium research projects under the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) funded by IDRC and DFID. My specific activities with DECCMA are contributing to the activities of the Migration and Adaptation work packages.

Between July 24 and 28, 2015 I spent my time attending the 3rd Whole-Consortium Workshop of the DECCMA project at the University of Ghana, Legon. It was quite a steep learning curve for me the first few days in trying to come up to speed with a project I had only followed from afar. One thing that stood out to me in my furious note taking and incessant picture snapping was that there was a lot of talk of “keeping things consistent across the three deltas.” That bugged me-and it kind of still does. For one who is gung-ho about context-specific and localized interpretive research I just had mental images of layers of rich, high-resolution, nuanced and complex information being glossed over for consistency or comparability. The horror!

Don’t get me wrong at all. I totally understand the need for similarity in order to enable comparison. I needed to set such parameters in my own dissertation research (which I will talk about soon). But I am still plagued by the question of whether we should not be okay with even different research designs or approaches in different places if the ultimate goal of the research is to develop locally-appropriate or relevant policy recommendations and funding proposals (see the Aims tab if you bother to open the link).

Group Photo

Kwame with a cross-section of the Migration Work Page at the 3rd DECCMA Consortium Workshop

My own dissertation research, which seeks to evaluate the success or otherwise of sea defense systems (SDS) as an adaptation to climate change from the perspective of different stakeholders, currently has the presence of a SDS in a particular area of the Volta River Delta of Ghana as the singular variable to include any site in the comparative analysis. Even within one area (the Keta Municipality) I discovered the presence of two SDSes so now I am juggling whether to compare three as opposed to two. Why can’t the object of a delta be enough of a variable of similarity for large consortium-based comparative work such as DECCMA? Granted, in my own research I am borrowing from the LIG approach as research design and method-however even after only 1 full week of fieldwork I am realizing that I will need to tweak my questions based on this approach from person to person let alone between sites.

Interviewing CF

Kwame interviewing a Chief Fisherman in one of the communities along the Keta Sea Defense System

Please do not hear me damming the work of DECCMA. Far be it from me! I am so honored and proud to be part of such a large interdisciplinary and groundbreaking project. However I look forward to seeing, as I engage in my own research and contribute to that of DECCMA, how comparative research can still remain context specific and locally relevant yet not lose its validity of rigor in the eyes of the rest of the scientific community. I guess “rigor” depends on who is assessing – but that is a thought for another blog post.

Is Mitigation beginning to enter the Resilience conversation?

I started writing this blog because I noticed mitigation is conspicuously hard to find when reading about resilience. Climate change resilience is often used in tandem and sometimes interchangeably with the term ‘adaptation’. Examples of climate change resilience here, here and here, highlight that the roots of resilience to climate change stem from disaster risk reduction, ecology and sociology and usually suggest a concept of “bouncing back” or “recovery” from some shock or stress. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Working Group (WG) II Contribution to its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), defined resilience as “the ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity of self-organization, and the capacity to adapt to stress and change.” This definition raises the question: why is a strategy (i.e. mitigation) that seeks to reduce the “stress” of greenhouse gases on the earth’s atmosphere not considered a form of resilience?

Is the reason mitigation has not emerged a popular strategy for building climate change resilience because the earth has not been able to retain its basic structure and function in absorbing greenhouse gases and so can basically never “bounce back” or “return to a former state”(based on the IPCC WG II AR4 definition of resilience)?   Or perhaps because resilience has been a more popular term in the disaster risk reduction sector (which is characterized by more violent and extreme events), resilience has come to be framed more normatively in relation to the immediate and extreme impacts of climate change. Is this framing, the reason resilience is commonly applied in light of adaptation alone – as adaptation is a more immediate actionable strategy than mitigation? If so, within climate change issues which suffer from the back burner-effect already (see this blog post), mitigation then becomes the action that gets relegated to the background.

My problem with mitigation not being integral to the definition of climate change resilience, is that language matters. Since the concept of mitigation is not apparent in a number of definitions and conceptualizations of climate change resilience, it seems that so far, mitigation actions are being entirely left out of some of the efforts to build resilience to climate change. Nevertheless, the IPCC in the SPM of its Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation stated that “…adaptation and mitigation can (emphasis mine) complement each other and together can significantly reduce the risks of climate change.” Can? I would like to think should! Granted, mitigation was not the focus of the report (as the authors so graciously point out) but the example advances the notion that mitigation has not necessarily been viewed by scholars and practitioners as an ultimate compliment to adaptation efforts in building resilience to climate change.

However there appears to be hope. In the most recent IPCC Assessment Report (AR5), the WG II Contribution in its SPM discusses the concept of climate-resilient pathways, which it defines as “sustainable-development trajectories that combine adaptation and mitigation to reduce climate change and its impacts.” Could a concept described as resilient that combines both adaptation and mitigation be an indication that mitigation is beginning to enter the conversation about resilience? I would like to think yes!